Students Take On Interpretation For Hospitals


BOSTON — Bilingual students who have been trained in medical interpretation could ease some of the burden on medical practices and hospitals to provide translation services.

In a poster presented at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, researchers from Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital in Providence describe the success of one model—the Interpreter's Aide Program. The student-run volunteer program was launched in 1997 by two students in Brown's 8-year combined medical program in an effort to improve the quality and the availability of medical interpretation services.

Under the program, about 34 bilingual undergraduate and medical students from the university were trained in techniques of interpretation, issues of cultural awareness, and medical terminology. As part of their training, students took both written and oral exams. The bilingual students mainly spoke Spanish. The trained student interpreters were then used to supplement professional interpreters at Rhode Island Hospital.

Between 2000 and 2002, an average of 34 students translated 1,333 hours a year, with each student volunteering his or her services for an average of 40 hours each year. The researchers estimated that the volunteer student program saved the hospital nearly $60,000 per year. An outside agency charges the hospital $45 per hour for interpretation services when students are not available.

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